BBC must share fee, says minister

Channel 4 may get revenue boost

LONDON — The British media minister has for the first time signaled that the BBC license fee could in future be shared with other U.K. broadcasters.

James Purnell, secretary of state for culture, media and sport, speaking on Thursday at the closing session of the Oxford Media Convention, suggested it would be “perverse” not to consider if part of the fee — paid by all British TV homes and which funds the BBC to the tune of some $6.4 billion — might at some stage go to other webs.

He said: “Do we think it’s sustainable for every penny of the license fee to go to a single organization in an industry which now has very many providers?”

However, Purnell ruled out setting up a so-called Arts Council of the Air, an idea supported by some media thinkers to help ensure that Blighty’s system of public service broadcasting remains strong following digital switch-off.

Purnell said: “I don’t think that the idea of just funding individual programs offers a viable model.”

The problem with this arrangement was that such a body would have no direct relationship with auds.

“The chances of the programs and the audiences meeting, sometimes by chance, would be impaired. Not everything watched on television was demanded in advance.

“I think the risk that posh programs disappear into a space all of their own, rarely to be visited by those without a prior grounding in the subject matter, is very real.”

Purnell’s comments are likely to be welcomed by Channel 4, the U.K. hybrid pubcaster, which is campaigning for a public subsidy.

Earlier in the day at the Oxford media confab, BBC chairman Michael Lyons, warned that “top-slicing” the fee risks damaging program quality.